Saturday, May 25, 2013

Elevatorgate never ends

Recently this article was brought up as a point of discussion.

The article was written 2011 (ages ago!) about elevatorgate. That little incident that defined how one should behave at a conference. And, the debate is only going to end badly.

Much of this has been addressed in the other articles, however to quote a few things directly from the article:

The first quote is apparently R.D. himself:

The man in the elevator didn’t physically touch her, didn’t attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn’t even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that.
If she felt his behaviour was creepy, that was her privilege, just as it was the Catholics‘ privilege to feel offended and hurt when PZ nailed the cracker. PZ didn’t physically strike any Catholics. All he did was nail a wafer, and he was absolutely right to do so because the heightened value of the wafer was a fantasy in the minds of the offended Catholics. Similarly, Rebecca’s feeling that the man’s proposition was ‚creepy‘ was her own interpretation of his behaviour, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum. But he does me no physical damage and I simply grin and bear it until either I or he gets out of the elevator. It would be different if he physically attacked me.
Christopher from "gedankenraum" (thought space?) adds:
What he basically says is: it’s all in her head. She had the freedom to interpret the guy’s „only words“ and it’s her own fault she interpreted in a way that offended her. And he ignores there are certain interpretations delivered by the context and history of men and women interacting, which he can be (and is) oblivious of because he is on the happy side of the gender divide in this respect.
Then Jen M is quoted:
Words matter. You don’t get that because you’ve never been called a cunt, a faggot, a nigger, a kike. You don’t have people constantly explaining that you’re subhuman, or have the intellect of an animal. You don’t have people saying you shouldn’t have rights. You don’t have people constantly sexually harassing you. You don’t live in fear of rape, knowing that one wrong misinterpretation of a couple words could lead down that road. 
You don’t, because you have fucking privilege.
Gedankenraum adds:
And she links to a „privilege 101″ that has a nice metaphor about a furry dog and a lizard living together in a house in a temperate area, where the dog controls the air conditioning to keep the temperature low and nice for him. Now, when the lizard complains about the cold, the dog has no clue what cold feels like, because being too cold is no experience in his life. That’s his privilege, which, as is explicitly pointed out, is not his fault. The problem (and his wrong behavior) arises when he denies the feeling of cold could exist because he doesn’t know it, and makes a „in your head“ argument similar to Dawkins.

What to make of all of this?

First, none of this addresses Dawkins' point.

When PZ Myers defecates on a wafer, who really knows what a Catholic may be thinking?

Maybe a Catholic would immediately think of the past few hundred years of anti-Catholic sentiment in the west, the United States especially. Do you really know what that feels like? Should you care?

Second, words do matter, but words also have an understood meaning.

The c-word used in the elevator was "coffee". Not the other c-word.

The i-word used in the elevator was "interesting". Not "intercourse".

Elevatorgators will say "Oh, but you read between the lines and the true meaning was obvious!"

Yet if we are all on the hook to be answerable what you might see into a sentence, we are all in loads of trouble.

There is no evidence that would suggest that "coffee guy" would have seen an evening filled with literal coffee as a failure.

Third, the "lizard" metaphor is bad.

Having a cold lizard in your room is like having a blind man at your conference - there are limited things the individual affected can do about their situation, and they are objectively pained by it.

If you're cold blooded, the physical realities of your situation will prevent you from doing some things. You won't be attending the CFI conference in Antarctica, for one.

A vagina is not a disability.

Finally, sometimes it's on you to change your perspective.

Catholics, Muslims, anti-vaxxers, Mormons, Republicans, Democrats - how can we bludgeon these groups every day of the year and not feel the need to apologize?

Well, it's taken for granted that the true fix to the situation is for the groups in question to change their perspective.

The Catholics/Mormons/Muslims could stand up and say that we're privileged because we don't know what it is to truly know Jesus/Muhammed and understand our creator's true intention.

The Democrats could stand up and say we're privileged because we're not poor urbanites and we don't know what it is to depend on social programs.

The Republicans could stand up and say we're privileged because we don't know what it is to be a small business blah blah blah... taxes, religion... you get the idea.

To top it off, the anti-vaxxers could know say that we don't know what it is to have a child with autism, and especially have a child with autism in an elevator.

But boo-hoo. Everyone can "suck it up". Right?



  1. I havent seen even a single feminist address this Norah Vincent, Self Made Man, Part 1 20/20, where a lesbian feminist and Gender Studies graduate tries to live like a man for 6 months, bails out early.. and concludes that 'I am happier to be a woman.. we are more privileged' (at end of part 3).

    They just ignore and move on, as if it never happened.

    1. There is no "more privileged" or "less privileged." That's what's wrong with the privilege metaphor. We're not all "differently privileged," we're all just DIFFERENT. And it's okay that we're different. I have a couple of non-obvious disabilities and one obvious disability. If the non-obvious disabilities mean I need some accommodation, I ask. One of the complaints of the blind attendee of WISC2 was that no one told him where to go from the registration desk. So what? That is easily solved by saying "Which way do I go from here?"

      But if you're suggesting our society doesn't favor men over women in most situations, that's just silly. Note how many issues that affect primarily or only women that our government doesn't even include a single woman in the discussions about.

    2. OR it could be that you havent understood how culture works.

      A lot of issues impact children, and parents take decisions on behalf of children, without involving children. Does that mean parents dont care for their children, and children are discriminated against?

      When Hurricanes, Tornados strike, the people working on disaster recovery are largely men. Does that mean women arent taken care of?

      When the Titanic (largely operated by men) sunk, most of the survivors were women and children. The men who survived were mostly crew members meant to paddle the lifeboats. Are women not being taken care of?

      Throughout PRE-history, humankind has had to protect itself from Wild Nature (hurricanes, wild animals, etc), and its mostly men doing that. Going by your logic, women should have been extinct by now.

      What you are doing is called the Frontman Fallacy.